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Dog Attacks: A Dangerous Weapon?

In many states, pit bulls have been deemed “inherently dangerous” and breed specific legislation has been put into place in response to this categorization. At the end of October 2012, Massachusetts legislature enacted An Act Further Regulating Animal Control which ended breed-specific legislation in Massachusetts and overturned many of the local ordinances and laws regarding bit pulls and other breeds known to be “inherently dangerous.” Despite this, there is still a question as to whether or not a dog, any dog, is or can be “dangerous”. Over the past few decades, Massachusetts courts have debated as to whether or not a dog constitutes “a dangerous weapon.”

According to a study by Reuters, pit bull owners are more likely to be criminals. The study also showed that owners of vicious dogs were more likely to be cited for failing to register their dog, failing to keep their dog confined on the premises, and were also more likely to have been convicted for serious crimes, crimes against children, and domestic violence. While An Act Further Regulating Animal Control, abolished any breed as being designated as “dangerous”, it allow dogs and pets to be removed from hazardous situations of domestic violence. Since the Act, restraining orders now include that the abuser stay away from the victim, any children involved, and any household pets.

Since statistically more pit bull owners were likely to be criminals, it has become a question for the criminal courts of Massachusetts as to whether or not a dog (any dog, not just a pit bull) can be used as a dangerous weapon. In 1974, in the case Commonwealth v. Michael Tarrant, [2 Mass. App. Ct. 483], it was decided that “a dog used for the purpose of intimidation or attack may constitute a dangerous weapon within the meaning of” Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 265, Section 17 which discusses armed robbery and punishment. In this case, the defendant was indicted for armed robbery. He was armed with a knife and a medium sized German shepherd. Even though the dog did not attack in the robbery, the court ruled that the law was to punish not only robbers who possessed a dangerous weapon but also those who possessed a weapon which would give the appearance of being dangerous. The court cites the example of a robber entering with an unloaded gun. No one would know the gun was not loaded or was loaded with blanks, except the robber. But the fear of the victims would still be quite real as if it was a real loaded gun. The court felt that it was the same with the dog and the robber was indicted on all counts.

It has been recognized by Massachusetts law that dogs can inflict serious injuries and under certain conditions, an attack victim is permitted to kill a dog which assaults him. Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 140 Section 156 reads:

Section 156. Any person may kill a dog which suddenly assaults him while he is peaceably standing, walking or riding outside the enclosure of its owner or keeper; and any person may kill a dog found out of the enclosure of its owner or keeper and not under his immediate care in the act of worrying, wounding or killing persons, live stock or fowls, and if any person shall kill or attempt to kill a dog so found, and in the act of worrying, wounding or killing persons, live stock or fowls, he shall not be held liable for cruelty to the dog unless it shall be shown that he intended to be cruel to the dog, or that he acted with a wanton and reckless disregard for the suffering of the dog. Prompt killing of a wounded dog, or a prompt report to the owner or to a dog officer of the wounding of the dog, shall be considered evidence of sufficient regard for the suffering of the dog.

In 2005, Massachusetts courts again revisited as to whether or not a dog could be used as a dangerous weapon. In Commonwealth v. Christopher Fettes [64 Mass. App. Ct. 917], an elderly woman went to an apartment that she owned to collect rent. There she met up with the defendant who was with his eight month old pit bull. The defendant did not live in the building. After a discussion about dog droppings in the yard, the elderly woman went to leave. The defendant than gave his dog a command and the dog lunged at the elderly woman biting her hand. The defendant and the dog then fled the scene. The bite to the hand was so severe that it caused nerve damage. Again, the court upheld that a dog could be used as a dangerous weapon and left it up to the jury to decide whether the defendant either deliberately provoked the dog to attack the victim or acted recklessly when he intentionally released his grip on the leash.

To read more about Dog Attacks and Dog Bites in Massachusetts click here.

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